J. Tillman :: Tillman Sings ‘Tonight’s The Night’

“Well, late at night, when the people were gone, he used to pick up my guitar. And sing a song in a shaky voice that was real as the day was long.”

Josh Tillman takes on Tonight’s The Night, Neil Young’s dark night of the soul, in its entirety…

Download:  J. Tillman :: Tillman Sings ‘Tonight’s The Night’ (zipped folder, 32mb)

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77 thoughts on “J. Tillman :: Tillman Sings ‘Tonight’s The Night’

  1. Is this James Taylor covering Tonight’s the Night?! Way to castrate it Tillman… Next thing we’re gonna hear is Josh Groban covering Springsteen’s Nebraska…

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  3. What are the circumstances behind these recordings? Was this officially released? When was it recorded? Just curious.

  4. Yeah… it’s… monochrome for the most part, isn’t it? I do like Tillman but this massive block misses the highs/ lows, hope/ despair, one man losing his mind alone/ one band hanging together appeal of the original, no? One quiet bass and one rattly set of drums, even, would have really kicked it up.

  5. What’s the point? Tillman doesn’t come close to Neil, every song is just monotonous. He sounds like he’s just having a bad day, whereas Neil was so far gone, he may have never come back, and maybe he didn’t want to.

    Nice photo, though.

  6. Listened to it all the way through and I still honestly believe that no one should touch “Tonight’s The Night.” Part of the reason the album is so great is because Neil puts it all out there. Emotion and misery have never been so apparent in a recording. J. Tillman covering the songs leaves me wanting Neil. No one can duplicate what Neil felt during the recording of Tonight’s the Night and I don’t think anyone should try to.

  7. Ohhhhhhh…first Susan Boyle wants to sing “Walk on the Wild Side,” and now J Tillman does “Tonight’s the Night”? Boyle is no J Tillman, but, still…..no. This is wrong.

  8. Hey all,
    Just wanted to clarify a few things for those of you who may be feeling like this was some kind of total disservice to an album that, I hope it’s obvious, is very important to me.

    First, the covering of an album is rarely, if ever, predicated on a deficit in the original, (as is clearly the case here) it’s an expression of affection for the source material. This album has been an inspiration and comfort for me for a long time. Someone who’s relationship to music is solely listening to it may have a hard time understanding the impetus for “covering”, and I can understand why someone could see it as unnecessary/narcissistic, but, to me, performing and recording a song yourself can lend a whole new perspective into why you love it. I view as a natural extension.

    Second, I was under no illusion that I was going to somehow improve or “one-up” the original. It’s a little ridiculous to even have to belabor that point, but it seems some of you are under the impression I’m some kind of ego-maniac as opposed to someone who is head-over-heels fanatical about my favorite songwriter.

    All of these are first-take, raggedy demos that I felt were congruent with the spirit of the album. I certainly could have done some kind of official release with a band, or a string section, or some kind of radical re-imagining of the aesthetic, but I can’t imagine how over-wrought and terrible that would be. This felt honest to me.

    Please just take this as what it is: A songwriter who some people like and some people don’t sharing his perspective on a monolithic album that changed his life. This in no way impedes on your ability to listen to and love “Tonight’s The Night”.


  9. Also, now that I know I primarily remind people of James Taylor, Susan Boyle, and Josh Groban, I have no choice but to go out back and run over my guitar with the lawnmower. Why didn’t anyone tell me this earlier?

  10. Well, well put J. Honest defense (not that it is really needed or should be called a “defense.” Sometimes it feels like the derision espoused in comment criticism has more to do with “I have an opinion” than “I have something to add to the conversation.”

    I really appreciate these songs – an album I love, an artist I love, at the very least it’s going to be something nice to come back to. And I’m sure, for the artist, it’s a wonderful exercise in exploring something already deeply loved. Personally, I credit “Tonight’s The Night” with being one of the first albums to take me from pop-radio to actually seeking out good music – that album has done a lot for me. It’s wonderful to know that others feel the same.

    But to think that this album should be somehow “off limits” is absurd. That distinction should be reserved for ABBA and Silver Jews.

  11. Follow up thought: I hate the expectations that sometimes come with covers that they are to, in some way, be a recreation of the original artifact. Covers are often their best when they re-imagine and reinterpret the original. Music has proven to be a elastic source of entertainment, where both technical skill and emotion are so intertwined and yet so easily warped and changed. These songs are a perfect example: a different approach to material many of us already love. For all the pain that we hear in Neil’s voice (warts and all), J’s voice seeps a different emotion – to me it feels more like a conversation to the listener and not an introspective approach. It’s different, it’s not a live band going nuts all over “Come On Baby” it’s like a man actually speaking to his lover and not an auditorium full of fans.

  12. >>>> Someone who’s relationship to music is solely listening to it may have a hard time understanding the impetus for “covering” . . . .

    That’s at the heart of this dustup, isn’t it?

    Who has a seemingly authentic position from which to discuss the context for the “cover”?

    As a songwriter, you insist that your motives are honorable, and you imply that other musicians will get this point. As a listener, I cannot distinguish Tonight’s the Night from from cultural context of the mid-70’s and my own development.

    I’m not sure how a musician can share the impetus for performing Tonight’s the Night with the listener, though, without asking us to engage with the intentional fallacy. I believe that you are sincere in all that you have posted, but I also would hope that, snarkiness aside, you take as sincere those comments that are critical of this release.

    Music is, to a small degree, a dialogue. I hope.

    My Susan Boyle analogy was regretable, and, for that, I apologize.

  13. Where’s Track 11 – “Tired Eyes”? I can undersand if there isnt a second version of tonight’s the night.

  14. this is a gem. thanks for posting. thank you, J, for weighing in, although you shouldn’t have to defend yourself. your sense of timing and space is amazing. a great record in itself @ the midnight hour. thanks for your contribution.

  15. Quite a payload the other day! I’ve been listening to Singing Ax and it’s literally making my mind tingle. Vocal mastery! Beautifuly subtle guitar parts. I wasn’t expecting it to be so thematic. It’s like the next town over from Powderfinger.

    Please come to Toronto!

  16. Hey Josh-

    Thanks so much for chiming in with some context and input. The internets are just great for this, no? That is if they’re not giving you an ulcer in the meantime! Fortunately, I think that all of the post-ers on the AD discussion boards mean no harm. And if you hit a nerve, more power to you– it’s nice to shake up us post-ers a bit! I’ll stand by my personal preference that an additional piece or two would really push it forward, as you did a beautiful job with the recording, but (a) as you say, that might not be the goal of this batch, and (b) it’s not my job to be the arbiter of all arts. No need to make everything into “Steel on Steel”, as truly wonderful as it might be. All credit to you for taking a crack at a classic.

    I also must absolutely agree about the way that REALLY covering a song (as opposed to 2AM drunken encores) and dissecting it can open things up for a player/ writer. Seeing the innards of those machines? Unbelievable at times. Never knew ’til I really tried it.

    Anyways, keep it up– Many thanks!

  17. Indeed, canonical albums are sacred beasts, but as such they deserve to be appreciated and re-appreciated through an avenue such as this. Great work, J.

  18. Hey Josh…

    For what its worth, I think you did a fabulous job. Perfect companion piece to the actual album. I will proudly place this next to it in my library. Great job, my friend…

  19. Isn’t Singing Ax context enough for this one? Or perhaps this ought to be the context we need to understand Singing Ax. The release of both at the same time should not stand as coincidence. Devastating, each on its own, and together so much more so.

    Thank you, Josh. And please find your way back to Georgia.

  20. This thread should simply end, and I should never post more than once, let alone three times, to a thread; however, the you’re-either-for-TillMan-or-against-him binary of this discussion deflects consideration of an important point–a point that I seem unable to make.

    Perhaps the best way to describe my reaction to the new version of _Tonight’s the Night_ is by way of David Ulin’s recent article about _Slaughterhouse Five_, a novel as pivotal to this writer’s life (and mine) as _Tonight’s the Night_ is to whatever and whoever it is that I am. If I were to read to “cover” of _Slaughterhouse Five_, I was react much as I have to the new version of _Tonight’s the Night_. The novel is unstuck in time, and a “cover” nearly periodizes that which should remain unstuck.

  21. Tillman certainly doesn’t owe anyone an explanation and everyone is entitled to their opinion, but I gotta say as a musician, this is the kind of thing we do to entertain ourselves. I can’t count the times I’ve sat down with my guitar and played the entirety of one of my favorite albums. In this case, J Tillman pressed record and made the results available for people to hear. Some of you are a little to precious about maintaining the purity and integrity of the original recording. I am reasonably sure that Neil Young wouldn’t give a fuck.

  22. I wouldn’t care much for for J Tillman’s covers even if I hadn’t heard Neil’s originals. Great lyrics, but his performance is monotonous, they just don’t move me.

    Yo James B.- please get back on your meds, dude.

  23. Certainly no one is questioning anyone on their respective taste on the covers – you either dig ’em or you don’t. But it is a bit – as Dave put it – precious to complain that something is so sacrosanct as to avoid covering all together. There are artists that I think don’t lend themselves very easily to cover whether it’s because of distinctive voices (Tom Waits) or pieces that are so indelibly tied to their original artist (Dylan) that it makes any cover sound odd. But it doesn’t mean I think no one should ever try.

  24. >>>But it is a bit — as Dave put it — precious to complain that something is so sacrosanct as to avoid covering all together.

    Let’s agree, then, that many of us are being a bit precious.

    It is true that Josh Tillman was incredibly gracious to post his take on _Tonight’s the Night_ here, in hopes of “sharing his perspective on a monolithic album that changed his life.”

    However it is also true that attempts to circumscribe a listener’s reaction to the release is a similarly precious conceit. It’s certainly not an indictment of Tillman or covers, in general, to question this release.

    Thank you for sharing, nevertheless.

    I think I hear my mom calling me from upstairs…gotta go.

  25. I wasn’t sure about it at first, but the version of “Albuquerque” won me over with the quickness.

  26. I like this a lot. Thanks Josh and for taking the time to explain your reasons for recording. Not that you needed to.

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  28. Hi, I’ve been listening and reading some of these comments. I understand why you want to sing these songs. I’m not a musician but I sing them all the time anyway. This record was my favorite NY work for a long time and is still in my top 5. I think you do a good job on at least half of them enough to stand in its own right as an original interpretation of something that is intensely personal. I thank you for doing it if for no other reason than to validate my estimation of NY as the most important musician in my life and also to validate NY to my 24 year old son, who turned me on to Fleet Foxes (which I also love).

  29. Good work Tillman! These are heartfelt renditions of the original material. Good for you to see that these raw takes was the way to go. I agree with your take on that completely. You don’t owe anyone an explaination.
    ” with your stomach pumps and your hook and ladder dreams”
    OD, Bartlett, NH

  30. Cowboy Junkies did ‘Tired Eyes’ – just sub that in… I love how all the comments here are either ‘this is AWESOME’ and ‘this SUCKS’

  31. J. Tillman’s somber style works better for some of the songs then others however, overall this is a great set of covers. I wish that more musicians would do this with albums that have clearly made a difference in their lives.

  32. I’m a 55 year old guy who listened to the original “Tonight’s the Night” about a zillion times, but when I first heard this rendition it went straight to my brain and I haven’t got it out yet. It was like hearing a brand new Tonight’s the Night and seeing those old recordings in a brand new light. I really appreciate that. Thanks, Mr. Tillman. I could tell this was no fling on your part but a straight-from-the-heart project that you always wanted to do.

  33. As a big Neil fan myself, and having heard many Neil songs around many campfires, in livingrooms, in fact all over the damn place, I gotta say I love this. Josh, you are completely right in your point of view. Can’t understand some of these comments. Nicely done!

  34. Anyone who’s ever picked up their own guitar and taken a crack at these songs knows that when you play them, you feel them even more. Or even if you’ve sung them a capella in a car in Santa Cruz while your friend is up in the hotel room deciding whether or not to kill himself. A worthy tribute, Mr. Tillman.

  35. I’ve only listened to C’mon Baby so far, but Tillman sounds more like Jason Molina than I remember (and Molina must be a huge NY fan as well). Looking forward to hearing this entire set.

  36. Wow! A lot of arguing over this cover/recording. That is a good thing overall. Any chance this is made available for download…once more, maybe 🙂

    One comment on my end – although belated by 3 good years.

    One thing that comes to my mind when I am discovering older stuff is what kind of music would I be listening to, had I been around at the time a certain record was issued in the first place. Let’s assume some of us were in their ’20s back in the day when ‘Tonight’s The Night’ hit the stores, would we actually listen to this stuff, admit its importance, dismiss it or what.

    I discovered Neil Young when I was 20 and went through his entire catalog from the solo beginning till ‘Hawks & Doves’ and then jumped over to ‘Ragged Glory’; all within the span of a summer break; and fell in love with the music. But long time before that when I was still a teenager I came across ‘Trans’ which at the time was contemporary…and (I) was indifferent to say the least.

    Nowadays though, I am comfortable revisiting ‘Tonight’s The Night’ knowing the whole story behind the sessions and adding some memorabilia/nostalgia deriving from my early 20s when I first touched base with this recording. Overall listening experience is very unique because it has become more of a personal thing.

    Bottom line, when Mr. Tillman does his version of the album, I am just thrilled to think that something in that album triggered an artist to revisit and redo the whole set. And if you really like Neil Young and Tillman then you can definitely enjoy this cover/recording. If you are holding back to either of the artists, then it is bound to be tricky or be picky choosing sides…

    People listening to classical music maybe better understand the need for contemporaries to perform older works. Neil Young output is sort of a classic long time now, right.


  37. WHAT DO I HAVE TO DO TO GET A RE-UP OF THIS!! I had no idea this existed (favorite album + one of my favorite artists).

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